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Florida lawmakers are considering a change in excused absences for students

Lonely child sitting on play park playground bench
Brian Jackson
A licensed mental health counselor may soon be able to write a school excuse note based on a student’s mental well-being.

State House members on Monday advanced a bill that would allow professionals such as therapists and psychologists to authorize excused absences for students. The House Early Learning & Elementary Education Subcommittee unanimously approved the measure (HB 289).

Only physicians currently are allowed to write notes attesting to illnesses or conditions that would excuse students’ absences. The House proposal would permit any “other licensed professional as determined by school board policy” to write such notes on behalf of students.

Bill sponsor Susan Valdes, a Tampa Democrat and former Hillsborough County School Board member, said the measure places an emphasis on students’ mental health. “This bill will allow for school boards to update their policies to reflect the needs of their community by allowing and recognizing professionals such as mental health therapists, clinical social workers and psychologists,” Valdes said.

Rep. Traci Koster, R-Tampa, said the proposed changes would work toward “changing the narrative” surrounding mental health. “I think this is a great step in that direction to recognize that … a child’s mental health or mental wellness is just as important as their physical health,” Koster said.

The House proposal needs approval from two more panels before it could be considered by the full House. A similar Senate bill (SB 1070) has not received a committee hearing.